Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Friday


After dinner at my mother's home on Thursday, Laurie and I drove another hour south into Orange County, or the O.C. as they say on the Fox Network, to the town of Tustin to have a second Thanksgiving Day with Laurie's side of the family at the home of David and Gayle Hicks.

Laurie's Father, Bill Gardner and his wife Florene

Our nieces, Lyndsey McKenzie, left, and Amy Hicks, with Laurie having a "family" moment.

What's the Eiffel Tower doing in this post?

Lyndsey and I sat down and "played God" with some of my European Adventure pictures.  We had fun playing at being artistic.  This may have been our most interesting creation.

Lyndsey, Laurie and Gayle Hicks

Gayle is Lyndsey's mother and Laurie's beloved sister.

Peeling Potatoes

In another shared family cooking experience, Laurie and I got a chance to work together with sharp objects in hand.  This usually leads to trouble.

The Food Preparation Continues!

David carving, Gayle stirring and their son Tim mashing.

Sharing a prayer of Thankgiving before dinner.

Sarah, Bill and Florene's grand-daughter, Scott Hicks, David and a little bit of Bill.

Another chance to carbohydrate overload!

Post Gorging Sloth

To the right is John, Sarah's main squeeze.

And a really good guy I must add!

FOOTBALL FRIDAY

Game #1

Nebraska (8-4) beat Colorado (5-7) 40-31.  The fake Nebraska field goal flip to the kicker seen here was intercepted by a Colorado player and returned for a TD!

Game #2 on Boise State's World Famous Blue Field

Boise State (12-0) blasted Fresno State (7-5) 61-10.

One of our former Rio Mesa players, Jeff Edwards was a punter for the Broncos in the late 1990's.  He once told me that during two-a-days the new players to the team would have to get on the field early to clean off the various dead birds who had mistaken the field for a lake and had died diving for non-existent fish.  No lie, you can't make this stuff up!

The Finale, Game #3

In the weirdest game of the day by far, Arizona State (5-6) beat UCLA (4-7) 34-9.

Why do I say weird? Well because ASU tied the NCAA record by scoring four TDs ON DEFENSE!

Arizona State won despite running the ball 24 times for a whopping 21 yards and passing for only 101 more yards.

The Sun Devils won because of 287 punt and kickoff return yards compared to the Bruins' 19.

The four defensive TDs were, in order:

1.  A bizarre 17 yard fumble recovery when 21 players stopped playing because they thought it was an incomplete pass at the 12:29 mark of the second period.

2.  A 38 pass interception return, still in the 2nd quarter with 6:03 left.

3.  Another interception return, this time for 100 yards, with 9:50 left in the 4th quarter.

4.  And yet another interception returned a mere 45 yards with 9:04 left in the game.

Family, Food and Football...
Jason Johnson is right, this really is a GREAT time in the American Calendar of Events!!!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Day 2008


As Jason Johnson so aptly puts it, in America Thanksgiving Day in (or "Il Giorno del Ringraziamento" in Italian) is all about the three F's, i.e., family, food and football although not necessarily in that order!

For our family this turned into a two day celebration both Thursday and Friday this year.

This post will deal with Thursday only at my mother's house in San Marino, California.

FAMILY

Cousins Reunited

From top to bottom, posing by their high school graduation pictures are Lauren Wintroath, my sister Marilyn and John's daughter, our son, Mike and our son Andy.

We don't see Lauren or her parents often enough.  Ditto for Andy who lives in Las Vegas.

When you get these three together the riot just kind of starts, yesterday was no different.

Los Dos Hermanos

A peaceful moment in the living room.

Las Dos Hermanas

My aunt Katy is on the left with my mother, Chuny.  They munch away while watching the Detroit Lions (0-12) get eaten alive by the Tennessee Titans (11-1) 47-10.
 
FOOD

Everybody helps my sister Linda with the cooking.

Here Vanessa, Mike's beloved, gives her moral support with the turkey.  The whole family helps out but Linda is definitely THE chef on Turkey Day!

HELP!

The boys help this time by lifting the large turkey out of the oven for Linda.  They also ate most of the bacon that you see atop the delicious bird that Laurie is about to carve. 

The Family Table is all decked out for the festivities.

Andy and Jenn are getting married in February...

... while Vanessa and Mike will be tying the knot in August!

2009 will be an exciting and memorable year for Contreras family!!!

FOOTBALL

After the Lions game we watched Coach Matteo Belfiore's Dallas Cowboys (8-4) dismantle the Seattle Seahawks (2-10) 34-9, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles (6-5) 40-28 romp  over the Arizona Cardinals (7-5).

Still not done, we then switched to watch a college game.  Number 2 ranked Texas (11-1) made a BCS statement in stomping rival Texas A&M (4-8) 49-9.

As it happens virtually every Thanksgiving Day, the three F's were all fully satisfied!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Baby Blues BBQ, Venice, California


Jason Johnson once told me that we all need to be "tourists in our own towns."  I am endeavoring to be just that in the greater Los Angeles megalopolis now that our freshman football season is over, the holidays are starting and our return to Sicily is only two months away.

The first stop on this new backyard adventure just had to deal with food so I went to the cable television station known as the Food Network to check out information about their show "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" hosted by Guy Fieri.  I'd watched the show on several occasions and as he travels all over the United States in search of eateries worthy of the show's title, I have always been entertained, curious and hungry.

With that as a background, I got into the old Chrysler for the one hour drive down the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu and Santa Monica before arriving at the BBQ dive that Guy Fieri had given rave reviews to in an episode entitled simply "BBQ."

Baby Blues BBQ
444 Lincoln Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

The Baby Blues has a simple,
unassuming storefront on a busy corner in Venice.

Of course, the "No fat Added" sign next to my al fresco table seen here made my dining experience all the healthier!

The Kitchen

The Command Center for all the good things that were about to happen...

...like the Texas Style Beef Rib

The Menu and a WARNING!!!

Let's do the warning first for the sake of your sanity.

When a BBQ dive says a sauce is "XXX" it means don't even think about trying it.

I, of course, did not listen to my own advice but fortunately I had enough corn bread and a large Diet Coke to get me through the ordeal!

The menu had over 20 "Platters", 7 sandwiches, 8 a la carte items, 14 "fixins", i.e., side dishes and 4 desserts to pick from.

Now I had a problem in making my choice.  I spent a week in the Spring of 2007 in the Memphis, Tennessee area when I travelled to Delta State University in Mississippi to visit Ron Roberts and his staff for a week to learn more about the 3-5-3 defense.

I made it a mission on this trip to hit every BBQ place I could find for lunch and dinner in search of the perfect set of BBQ ribs.  The Rendezvous in Memphis was hands down the best I found on this pilgrimage.

The problem was that ever since I had returned from this Southern food and football orgy, I had discovered that ribs were no longer appealing.  I WAS RIBBED OUT!

I had tried ribs in several of my favorite California BBQ spots but they just didn't cut it anymore...I was ruined and devastated at the same time.

I decided to trust the Food Network and Guy Fieri's judgement and enthusiasm and ordered the "Memphis Queen" Platter.

The Memphis Queen

On top, 1/2 rack of Baby Back Ribs
Underneath, 1/2 rack of Memphis Style Ribs
Fixin #1, Baked Beans
Fixin #2 Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Corn Bread

I started with the Baby Backs... Sweet Carolins sauce, meat falling off the bones, TREEEEEEMENDOUS!!!

The Baked Beans and the Corn Bread were both solid to say the least but the Mashed Sweet Potatoes were more like a dessert than a side dish... AWESOME!

The spicy Memphis Ribs were next and they were VERY good.  I think they suffered in comparison to the Baby Backs but would have been great in their own right had I not eaten the Baby Backs first.

Danny, the Baby Blues BBQ's Owner

Danny was GREAT!  He came out to my table and struck up a conversation with me about BBQ, what else.  I told him about the Rendezvous and how it had spoiled me.

When he checked on me after Amanda the waitress brought out my order and I told them how incredible I found his food, he responded by saying he would bring me out something special.

The next thing I know I'm eating some of his delicious Collard Greens and a grilled BBQ Tiger Shrimp!

If you are in the Venice area (Craig Slavin, THIS MEANS YOU!), by all means go to the Baby Blues BBQ, you will be VERY glad you did!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Notes on a Weekend Football Scorecard


I awoke this beautiful Sunday morning and proceeded to the Los Angeles Times sports section to discover some very interesting happenings in both college and high school sports yesterday.

NCAA DIVISION III PLAYOFFS

Mary Hardin-Baylor 38 - Hardin Simmons 35

During my seven months living in Sicily, I had several opportunities to hear both Brandon Bennett and Matt Epperson discuss their shared feelings about a team that I grew to believe was the "Visigoths" of the NCAA Division III playoffs, one Mary Hardin-Baylor University.

I often wondered how a school with such a pleasant sounding name could possibly be SO evil in their minds.  It was never fully explained to me but Matt's H.S.U. team ended their 9-2 season with a playoff loss to 10-1 M.H-B.U. yesterday in the first round of the playoffs.

H.S.U.'s other loss this season... you guessed it, 18-20 to these same Tigers from Mary Hardin-Baylor University.

Maybe Mary Hardin really was evil incarnate.

Terry Henigan's Irvine Vaqueros
win their First Round C.I.F. Playoff Game!

I found out that Terry's team plays in the VERY tough Pacific Coast League.  I say this because the PCL's championship team, Laguna Hills is seeded #1 in the Southern Division playoffs and their second place team, Corona del Mar is seeded #2 in the Southern Division playoffs!

His Irvine (7-3) team was the PCL's #3 team and opened their playoff run against Westminster H.S. Saturday night.  Westminster (7-3) is the Golden West League's championship team and the Southern Division playoff grouping's #4 seeded squad.

The Vaqueros improved to 8-3 as they held on to defeat Westminster 14-7.  Next up is a Quarter-Final playoff game on the road against the Suburban League's #2 team, Norwalk.  Norwalk is now 7-4 after upsetting 9-2 Garden Grove H.S. by a score of 38-6.

Burbank H.S. seen in possession of the football in this photo.

Burbank H.S. first opened its doors in September of 1908.  That means that this is their 101st season of playing varsity high school football.

They finished the regular season with a 5-5 record, finishing in 4th place in the Pacific League.  They were selected to play Santa Fe H.S. in the first round of the C.I.F.'s Southeast Division playoffs.  Santa Fe entered the game with a sparkling 9-1 record earning them both the Del Rio League championship and the playoffs #2 seed.

In a big upset, Burbank won 20-14.  Nice story but that is not what caught my eye.

This win was Burbank's first playoff victory since 1927!

81 years... Now that's a reason to celebrate.

Next up for the Bulldogs is a home game against 9-2 West Covina, the San Antonio League's #2 team.
 
NCAA DIVISION II PLAYOFFS

While trying to find out more information on Brandon Bennett's Willamette University's NCAA Division III victory, I ran across this score from the NCAA's Division II Playoffs yesterday:

Abilene Christian 93 - West Texas A&M 68

This MUST be a mistake, after all, it is the start of the college basketball season.  Surely the score was just misplaced in the paper.

But maybe, just maybe, the Italian Football League's offensive mentality has somehow worked its way back across the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon further review, here is what I found out.

This WAS a football game!  In fact, it was a rematch of a regular season game these two teams played earlier this year, with Abilene Christian winning that wild one 52-35.

Coming into this playoff game, A.C. was 10-0 and seeded #2 in the playoffs while W.T. A&M was 11-1.

A.C.'s running back, #3 pictured above, Bernard Scott scored 7 TDs yesterday while carrying the ball 19 times for 292 yards.  He also caught 3 passes for another 61 yards.

Do you like offense?  Well these two schools combined to shatter all sorts of school, conference and NCAA records.

A.C.'s Offense stat sheet looked like this:
93 points on 56 plays good for 810 yards!
They scored a TD on 13 of their 15 possessions.

W.T. A&M's stat sheet was also impressive as you might imagine:
68 points on 94 plays that gained 721 yards!

So, in their only two losses of an 11-2 season, W.T. A&M averaged 51.5 points and lost them both to Abilene Christian????

If you ask me, this was a prime example of Italian Football League offensive football at its best!!!

The Week in Review


WOW! This was a busy week as we crisscrossed southern California a couple of times.

WEDNESDAY

The first big event of the week was the C.I.F. Water Polo Semi-Final Playoff match between our #1 seeded Rio Mesa Spartans, the Pacific View League champions, and the #4 seeded Walnut Mustangs, the San Antonio League champions.

The game was played at a neutral site in Orange County, the William Woolett Aquatics Center in the city of Irvine located about 100 miles south of Rio Mesa.

Rio Mesa's Danny White about to score on a penalty shot.

Among the fans who made the trek to the O.C. were Brian and Koreen FitzGerald

Koreen absolutely HATES seafood but promised the team to eat an ENTIRE skewer of BBQ shrimp if they won.  They came through with a stirring, come from behind 8-7 victory so we drove to the famous Crab Cooker in Newport Beach to meet our friends Loren and Sandy Brucker so that she could uphold her end of the bargain... WHAT A TEAM PLAYER!!!

Don DiDomizio, who lives in the O.C., was a GREAT option QB for Rio Mesa H.S. in the early 1990's.

Danny White, R.M.'s star player, is Don's cousin so he came to the pool to watch us win.

THURSDAY

Ann Marostica is a Science teacher at Rio Mesa by day but loves to dance in her spare time.  On Wednesday night, in beautiful Santa Barbara, she and seven of her dance troupe friends put on a dance show at the SoHo Restaurant.  About 50 members of the Rio Mesa Spartan family made the 40 mile drive north to support Ann.

They danced extremely well and a good time was had by everyone in the packed house that wound up being a "Standing Room Only" affair!!!

The vivacious Shi Young Kim, an R.M. Art teacher, joined Brian FitzGerald for dinner before the performance started. 

One of the funniest and brightest new faculty members at R.M., Yen Lam, a Math teacher for the Spartans, and her friend Justin made it to Santa Barbara too!

SATURDAY

Back to the O.C. for the C.I.F. Water Polo Championship Game starting at 10:45 a.m.  This required us to leave Camarillo by 8:15 to make the drive allowing for possible but unlikely traffic problems on a Saturday morning.

Seattle's Best Coffee and the La Quinta Baby

We arrived in Irvine at about 9:50 after an easy drive, so we stopped for coffee at this shop just a few blocks from the pool.

We were treated to this bagel chomping baby whose mother is a teacher at nearby Garden Grove's La Quinta H.S.

The coffee was pretty good too! 

Terry Henigan

I first met Terry in 1980 in the parking lot of Cerritos College at the Southern California Interscholastic Football Coaches Association Clinic.  I was the Head Coach at Westlake H.S. at the time and there had been an article on our league championship team's running the Delaware Wing-T offense which was virtually unheard of in California.  Terry had seen the article and was a Wing-T coach himself along with his friend Dick Shelko at Morreno Valley H.S.

For the first time all three of us had someone to talk to DIRECTLY about our offense as opposed to reading about it in books and magazines.  It was a start of a good friendship and we even flew back together to watch spring practice at the University of Delaware!
 
The pool our team was playing in today was right next door to Irvine H.S.  We had to walk by their football office to get into the pool and lo and behold, out pops Terry when he saw me through the window!  They have a first round play-off game tonight vs. Westminster.

Irvine's Football History

It is safe to say that Terry and his staff know how to coach football!!!

The William Woollett Aquatics Center

Pictured are just some of the U.S. Olympians who have trained in this three pool complex.

The Venue for the 2008 C.I.F. Division VI Water Polo Championship Game

#1 seeded Rio Mesa vs. #2 seeded Crescenta Valley, just like the experts thought it would turn out.

My wife, Laurie, graduated from Crescenta Valley but today she was a Spartan!

R.M. Coach Derrick Timmons cheering the Spartans on a fast break after the Falcons missed a shot.

The Rio Mesa Fan Base travelled well!

That is the Oxnard Union High School District's Athletic Director, Tony Diaz, in the front row left, talking with Rio Mesa Principal, Ray Gonzales, sporting the dashing mustache.

We lost a heartbreaker 9-10.  It is hard to take now but what a GREAT job the team did this year representing our school!

FOOD

Nothing can bring my spirits up after a tough loss like a good meal so we drove north about 10 minutes to Anaheim to visit the Downtown Disney area of Disneyland.

Mickey can just take away all of your sadness without trying too hard!

First decision, which restaurant to eat in?...

... LOTS of good choices...


In Italy we used a large Margherita pizza as our standard to judge if a ristorante was overpriced or a good deal.  The rule of thumb was 5 Euros, about $7.50, was a fair price for this delicious but relatively plain pizza.

How about paying $25.50 for a large Margherita pizza?

No wonder Mickey has that big grin on his face!  Sell a few of these babies and he is taking Minnie on a six month cruise around the world!!! 

How big would the "Family Size" have to be to make it a deal at $37.50?

We opted for the ESPN Zone

Good food at a FAIR market value AND a bazillion TV screens all showing college football games!

The Black and Blue Burger, which includes Gorgonzola cheese, was AWESOME!

The House of Blues would have been a good choice too.

People promenading through
"The Happiest Place on Earth"

BRING ON THE RED BARON!

I even got to dream about being a World War I fighter pilot.

OTHER FOOTBALL NOTES
 
Brandon Bennett's Willamette University team improved their record to 11-0 by handing Occidental College, 9-1, their first loss of the season by a score of 48-33.  They will play the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater next Saturday in Oregon in an NCAA Division III second round playoff game.

My Washington Huskies (0-10) went to Pullman for the Apple Cup Game vs. cross state rival Washington State (1-10).  It marked the first time in college football history that an 0-10 team was favored to win by 7 points on the road!!!  The Cougars had, after all, given up over 60 points four times this season and their only win was vs. Division I-AA (I know they changed this division's name to something else but remember I still call San Diego's Stadium "The Murph")  Portland State.

We LOST 13-16 in DOUBLE OVERTIME after WSU kicked a field goal to tie the game at 10-10 with no time left in regulation!  We have one more game in two weeks at the University of California.  If we lose that one to finish the 2008 season at 0-12, then I will have witnessed two perfect season's in my lifetime by the Huskies.  The other one was the 12-0 1991 National Championship season... such symmetry to one's life experiences!  Stay tuned...